The Bowdoin women’s tennis team (9-2, 4-1 NESCAC) had not beaten Amherst in a record 13 years until a 5-4 victory over the third-ranked Mammoths last weekend ended the streak.
The win comes in the middle of a successful season thus far, including some come-from-behind victories on the four, five and six courts. Fleming Landau ’21 was the clincher at number six.
“We were like ‘Let’s be the first team to beat Amherst in 13 years,’” said Izzy Essi ’21. “We knew it was possible; we knew it wasn’t some far-off thing.”
The team made it a priority to enter into this important match like any other, albeit, with a measured strategy.
“We talked a lot about not overplaying and giving them a chance to choke,” said captain Tasha Christ ’20.
Yet Bowdoin’s journey to victory was not a sure thing. After losing the first sets of the match on all but Landau’s court last Saturday, Essi knew the team had to step up its game.
“When most of the first sets were done, [Amherst] thought they had the win,” added Essi.
“We [agreed to] at least make [each match] long and hard for Amherst because we knew our mental game was stronger,” Sasa Jovanovic ’20 said. “Even if you don’t win, the person next to you might because their opponent now has more pressure on them.”
Women’s tennis is a very small and young team, but these factors—often seen as challenges—have worked as advantages for the Polar Bears.
“Keeping the team’s energy high with only seven people was a big challenge at first,” said Christ. “But then we realized that everyone who’s on the team right now wants to be on the team and is competitive and working hard. Now having seven players, everyone knows they have to be on their A-game for the team to be successful.”
The team has only improved since the fall. Essi felt that the same team that lost to Skidmore in October would not have won against Amherst. Saturday’s win was a validating progress report.
“This was a message that we mean business and we are contending for a spot [in the tournament],” said Christ.
A particular improvement has been in doubles action, which plays first and often sets the tone for the rest of the match. The ability to clinch the doubles point in many matches, including the Amherst match, has allowed the team to go into singles this season with an advantage.
Besides improving on the courts, the women’s tennis team is dedicated to upholding its unique system of values, including honoring a value sheet players create each year. The Polar Bears consider grit to be one of their most prized characteristics.
To members of the team, “getting gritty” means a combination of mental toughness and stamina, which allowed them to stay in the match against Amherst and eventually come from behind for a victory.
Essi said Head Coach Paul Holbach, or “Hobie,” was the linchpin in turning the match against Amherst through his calm and positive coaching. He also imbues his players with the value of humility after a hard fought win.
“Going into Hamilton the very next day, something he said was ‘yeah we’re good, but we’re not really good,’” said Essi. “He’s always able to tone down our egos.”
The Amherst win has the whole team motivated for the rest of the season.
“I think it definitely shows we have the capability to compete with the best teams, but I don’t think it’ll by any means make us cocky,” said Julia Marks ’22. “If anything, it’ll motivate us more because we know we can compete with the best.”
“We want to keep beating those really good teams,” added Christ. “We don’t want to settle for one good win because we still have a lot of strong opponents ahead of us.”
The team will host its next five matches, starting with a faceoff against Brandeis on Saturday at 1 p.m.